It’s been a while since we’ve had brackets to talk about...well, at least the bracket for the Dance. The last time Alabama basketball was projected firmly within the NCAA tournament was the 2011-2012 season; Grant’s only appearance in the NCAAs punctuated by a one-and-done loss to Creighton.
But, with 12 games left in the season, Coach Johnson’s injured, very young team (the third youngest in Division I) has nevertheless found a way to win 2/3rds of its games, boasting a healthy No. 26 RPI even after facing the 6th toughest schedule in the nation. Now, we find the Crimson Tide projected to be a mid-low seed with a final brutal dozen games on tap:
CBS Sports has Alabama 9th in the West, in a rematch with the Creighton Blue Jays.
Team Rankings data crunchers see a 70% chance for the Tide to clench a bid (presently an 11-seed,) with an 11% chance to make a Sweet 16 run.
Before the Tide’s most recent torrid pace in SEC play, Bleacher Report sees ‘Bama as an 8-seed in the East, facing the 9th-seed SMU Mustangs.
Lunardi’s iconic Bracketology sees the Tide with a pretty favorable draw. Yes, Alabama is just a 10th-seed, but he sees ‘Bama travel just to Nashville, where they would face a rapidly-cratering TCU Horned Frogs team as the 7th-seed.
Chris Dobbertean’s excellent “Blogging the Bracket” projects 9 SEC teams in the final field, largely based on the rugged out-of-conference schedule:
The SEC’s improved non-conference scheduling should pay dividends this season, with the league poised to capitalize on the Big Ten’s and Pac-12’s struggles to secure a bid total not seen in history. It helps that the average league member could have nearly five more quality win chances at the end of the season than those conference’s average.
While Alabama and Arkansas are scuffling and Texas A&M is dealing with injuries, LSU and Missouri are knocking on the door. And given the copious quality win opportunities available, there’s time for teams to make a late charge. South Carolina, Ole Miss, and Mississippi State could all own more quality wins at the end of the season than current contenders UCLA and Ohio State.
I like his projection the least of the bunch. It’s not the 9th-seed that’s the trouble; it’s the first round matchup with a dangerously long and physical 8th-seed Florida State squad. It’s a bad matchup for the Tide, probably the worst of the bunch.
While it’s good to keep an eye on the brackets, the Tide’s final stretch run may be the most difficult I’ve seen in a while and has the potential to derail a good season.
The Tide begins this week with a road trip to No. 99 Ole Miss, a place that Alabama has not at win since the 2004-2005 season. They return home to face the nation’s No. 4 team, the Trae Young -led Oklahoma Sooners. It doesn’t get any easier: Every team in the 10 games thereafter is either firmly in the NCAA tournament (@ Kentucky, @ Auburn), a solid tournament squad (Arkansas, Tennessee, A&M) or hovering around on the bubble (LSU, Missouri, Florida, @ Florida, @ Mississippi State). With the exception of ‘State, there’s not a team on the final third of the schedule that Alabama can definitively beat...and the Bulldogs aren’t a gimme in Starkville, either.
So, this really comes down to winning games and beating teams that it has already (MSU, LSU), winning a few tossups (at Auburn, Arkansas, Missouri) and then Alabama needs to win some at some places it hasn’t in a long while (Tad Pad or Rupp) or against some teams it hasn’t in a long while (looking at you, Florida.)
Either way, it’s going to be an exciting final month: Hope for the best.